Gérard Paul Francis Houllier, born on September 3, 1947, in Thérouanne (France), was a French professional football manager and player.
Houllier was in charge of the French national team, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), RC Lens, Liverpool FC, Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon), and Aston Villa FC during his illustrious managerial career. While he is a popular figure in France, where he guided PSG and Lyon to first division titles, Houllier is famously known for his work in England.
The Frenchman took over Liverpool FC in 1998 and turned a sleeping giant into a formidable team in both England and Europe.
Before starting his career in football, Houllier was studying for a degree in English at Lille University. As part of his degree, he decided to spend one year as an assistant in Alsop Comprehensive School in Liverpool. As a result, he attended his first Liverpool FC game in 1969, where the English club thrashed Irish side Dundalk by 10-0.
After his studies, Houllier started his teaching career, and he was the Deputy Head Master at École Normale d’Arras when he decided to begin his full-time career in football. In 1973, the then 26-year-old Houllier took over Le Touquet as player-manager. He then joined amateur club Nœux-les-Mines as head coach in 1976. Despite a shortage of resources, Houllier guided the club to promotion to Division 2.
In 1982, he joined RC Lens and managed to promote the team to the First Division and qualification for the UEFA Cup. Next, he moved to PSG in 1985, where he guided the club to the league title in the following year.
France National Football Team
Houllier’s early track record was enough to earn him the position of technical director of the France national team. He was also acting as assistant to Michel Platini, who was the manager of the French national side.
From 1992 to 1993, Gérard Houllier also had a short stint at the managerial post. However, he resigned after failing to qualify the French national team for the 1994 World Cup. Though he retained his job as technical director, Houllier was also coaching the Under-18 French national team.
In 1996, he managed to win the European Under-18 Championship while coaching future star players like Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.
Liverpool Football Club
In 1998, Houllier moved to England to join Liverpool FC. The move abroad would turn out to be the highlight of his managerial career. At first, he was appointed as the joint manager together with Roy Evans, but later took charge of the club alone following the resignation of Evans in November 1998.
Despite being a powerhouse in Europe and the most decorated team in England, Liverpool FC has been a shadow of their former self for nearly a decade. Houllier was trusted to bring glory days back to the club, and he immediately set out a rebuilding plan where discipline and hard work were the core principles.
Eventually, the rebuilding program saw a lot of changes in the team personnel. Several big names left, while Houllier did some tricky business in the transfer market by bringing in many good players like Sami Hyypiä, Dietmar Hamann, Stéphane Henchoz, Vladimír Šmicer, and Sander Westerveld.
Similarly, the club’s youth system saw the emergence of exceptional talents, namely Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen, and Steven Gerrard. But, on the other hand, a lot of changes were happening at the club level, as Liverpool FC’s training facilities at Melwood were upgraded.
In the following year, more signings were made to ensure continuity in the rebuilding process. Players like Marcus Babbel, Nicky Barmby, Emile Heskey, and Gary McAllister were recruited to mount a serious challenge at both the domestic and European front.
Eventually, all the hard work and efforts finally paid off as Houllier guided Liverpool FC to a famous treble. The club won the League Cup, FA Cup, and UEFA Cup in the 2000-01 season. The cup success continued in 2001 as the team won the Charity Shield and UEFA Super Cup.
Houiller’s Hospitalization At Half Time
In October 2001, during half-time of Liverpool’s Premier League match against Leeds United, Houllier was rushed to the hospital due to a heart condition. He was diagnosed with an aortic dissection and had to undergo immediate surgery.
After five months of recovery, Houllier returned to the hot seat. With the caretaker manager, Phil Thompson, he helped Liverpool finish as runner-up in the 2001-02 Premier League campaign. It would remain as the best finish in the Premier League for Liverpool FC under Houllier.
Following a poor fifth-place finish in the league in the 2002-03 season, Liverpool failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Similarly, despite further investments in the squad, Houllier could not mount a serious title challenge.
With growing criticism from both the club and fans, Houllier left the club by mutual consent in May 2004. Though he could not win the League title, the Frenchman is still regarded as a great manager and hero among the Liverpool fans and former players.
Managing Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon)
In May 2005, after one year of sabbatical, Houllier returned to management. He signed a 2-year contract with the French club Lyon. Having won the previous four consecutive League titles, Houllier had to instill Lyon’s domestic dominance at the European stage.
Despite winning the Ligue title twice in as many years at Lyon, making it their sixth consecutive title, Houllier could not bring European silverware to the French club. Eventually, his contract was not extended, and he was released from his duties.
Houillier Next Destination; Aston Villa FC
Following another stint as technical director with the French National Team, Houllier returned to club management with Aston Villa in September 2010. He signed a 3-year contract while simultaneously appointing his former player, Gary McAllister, as assistant manager.
However, the Frenchman’s journey with Aston Villa was not as successful as with his previous employers. Aston Villa’s squad endured several long-term injuries to key players, resulting in the team lingering in the relegation zone by mid-season and out of the League Cup.
Despite the support from the club owner and board, Houllier was not highly regarded by the Villa fans. There were unpleasant chants during home games and posters displayed from angered fans calling for his resignation.
Despite all the adversity, Houllier managed to bring in some players during the January transfer window to save the club from relegation. Eventually, the team put in a string of consistent performances to get out of the relegation zone.
Unfortunately, in April, Houllier felt sick and had to be admitted to hospital. Though he was in a stable condition, he did not attend the rest of the training sessions and matches of the season with the team. By the end of his first and only season with Aston Villa, Houllier resigned from his position by mutual consent.
Death and Tribute (September 3, 1947 – December 14, 2020)
On 14 December 2020, Gérard Houllier passed away. After a heart operation, he died in Paris at the age of 73. Houllier had an incredible journey in football and was considered one of the few French coaches to have a successful career abroad. His death shook the whole football fraternity, and the tributes were pouring from all corners of the world to pay respect for the loss of a true gentleman.
Quotes From The Football World
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Gérard Houllier. Besides his outstanding work with the likes of Liverpool, Lyon, and France’s national team, Gerard provided invaluable input to FIFA’s Technical Study Group.” – Fifa
“We are mourning the passing of our treble-winning manager, Gérard Houllier. The thoughts of everyone at Liverpool Football Club are with Gérard’s family and many friends. Rest in peace, Gérard Houllier 1947-2020.” – Liverpool FC
“All at Aston Villa are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Gérard Houllier, our manager during the 2010/11 season. Our thoughts are with Gérard’s loved ones at this incredibly difficult time.” – Aston Villa FC
“Devastated to hear the news, my former manager Gérard Houllier has passed away. I will never forget what this man did for me and my career. Rest in peace Boss. YNWA.”- Steven Gerrard
“Generosity always pays off. Generosity in your effort, in your work, in your kindness, in the way you look after people and take care of people. In the long run, if you are generous with a heart and with humanity, it always pays off. An achiever of great things. Rest in peace Boss.” – Robbie Fowler
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